On Sunday, Washington Commanders punter Tress Way will be facing off against Atlanta punter Bradley Pinion, but throughout this season, the two players are on the same team helping a cause bigger than football.
"Something that's so special about Punts for Purpose is that it started with the punters," said Ashleigh Alcorn, manager of pro athlete partnerships at Compassion International. "Bradley started recruiting punters to join. Tress has been a part of it since the beginning, and it's in their hearts to use the platform God has given them to give a voice to the voiceless."
The Punts for Purpose initiative has simple parameters, but its impact is huge. Every time Pinion and Way hit a punt that lands inside the 20-yard line this season, the two have committed to give $1,000 to aid organization Compassion International to help fight poverty.
Donations from punts will be used toward funding 500 child survival centers, which will help moms and babies in poverty receive proper prenatal care, nutritious food, clean water, education, access to medical care, a birth assistant during childbirth, and a community of spiritual and emotional support. In just two years' time, these centers could save the lives of 25,000 mothers and 25,000 babies.
Way first learned about the plan for Punts for Purpose last winter when he and his wife Brianna attended The Increase conference with Pro Athletes Outreach. A number of organizations and foundations had a presence at the event, and Pinion, who Way considers a great friend and a "phenomenal dude," shared his story working with Compassion International. The Atlanta punter's words really struck a chord with Way.
"When he said, 'Punts for Purpose' and he and I spoke about it and we got to talk to the team with Compassion, it was just a slam dunk," Way explained. "As a punter, I'm honored to be a part of this. A lot of people say, 'I'll throw my hand in,' and I say, 'I'll throw my foot in on this one.'"
At the core of Compassion's mission is an issue that has long tugged at Way. During his time at Oklahoma, the punter had the chance to travel to Haiti on two occasions and had his eyes opened to many of the ravages of poverty and in particular, its effects on children. Now with three kids of his own, Compassion's efforts resonate with him in a whole different way.
"It's definitely the kid factor," Way said. "I look at my kids and you just see the potential for their lives. Whenever you see kids their age in poverty that were just born in an area, born in a time, born in a situation out of their control, it's a gut punch."
According to Compassion International, one million babies in the developing world die on their first birthday every year -- that's nearly the same number of fans who will see a Commanders game in person this season. Both babies and mothers living in poverty die at an alarming rate, often by preventable causes. Compassion looks to link arms with these moms and provide critical support and resources. With that in mind, the pledges of Way and Pinion are set to make a monumental difference.
"These incredible athletes are taking something that's not often thought of as a positive -- a punt -- and turning it into life-saving care for some of the most vulnerable in the world," Alcorn said.
So, next time you see a Tress Way punt fall within the 20-yard-line, you can pump your fist in the air for the Commanders as well as for the folks that are going to benefit from an important donation.
"Punts for Purpose is such a cool initiative, and I'm just thankful to be invited and thankful that there's people like Brad in the league and organizations like Compassion that are willing to bring outsiders in to help with anything that they can," Way said.